|Original review author:||The Luigiian|
|Webcomic name:||Dresden Codak|
|Start Date:||June 8, 2005|
|Defining Flaw:||The author took a decent gag strip and turned it into a long graphic novel about his obsession with transhumanism.|
|Things that are fucking terrible about this webcomic:||Obnoxiously pretentious storyline, obnoxiously pretentious themes, shitty characterization|
|Things that aren't terrible but could use improvement:||Page layout, art|
|Summary:||Ahahaha. Too bad your art can't save your slavish adherence to transhumanism. You're almost on the same level as XKCD, Diaz. Good job on ruining what little you did well with a healthy dose of some ridiculously overdone pseudoscience.|
UPDATE: This review had originally been written by the site founder, The Luigiian. The original review was found to not only be out of date (having been written prior to Dark Science), but very lacking in detail (this version is about five times as long as the original). Most of the original content has been preserved, but the majority of this version is my own content. -Plarblman.
Back when Dresden Codak started, it was a simple gag strip. Even then it was pretentious ------check out this strip parodying Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle------ but it had not yet descended into the depths of Webcomics Hell.
Then, Diaz began inserting his retarded transhumanist fantasies into the strip. What little good the webcomic first had was immediately drowned in a sea of talentless drama. Diaz is apparently incapable of making convincingly deep characters or to make himself appear as anything more than a physics-obsessed nerd.
He's so obsessed with transhumanism, that if you drew a smiley-face on a toaster, Diaz would probably fuck it.
Story & Plot
The comic can be divided into three phases:
This phase can be best described as "xkcd for philosophy majors." It's mostly in gag-a-day format with no real connective storyline or even continuity. Hell, Kim doesn't appear until seven strips in and gets one line of dialogue. She even dies at one point and goes to "Atheist Heaven" (No, that's not a joke). It's pretentious and the jokes are not always successful, but at least it demanded less from the reader to understand what was happening.
This is Diaz's first attempt at a major story arc, and where his transhumanist utopia fantasy shines through. If you had a hard time following the philosophy bits before, you're going to hate the rest of the comic. Here's the gist; In the distant future, the singularity happens and mankind gets all their needs met. But then the technological hivemind decides that it must assimilate all life on the planet and is perfectly willing to let mankind go extinct if they won't willingly join them. So there's a Matrix-style apocalyptic battle to stop the machines, while the survivors try to rebuild the future by becoming time colonists and returning to the past. The problem is that they need to use a robot to stabilize the timestream portal in the past, and that robot finds its way into Kim's lab, whom she calls Hob.
When told everything that happened by the time travelers, she actually sides with the machines and doesn't even care if mankind goes extinct. She goes out of her way to protect Hob, calling her own friends "primates" for not believing in her pseudo-religious transhumanist ideals, and then when the time colonists return en masse, turns into some kind of goddess of technology, and forces the time travelers against their will to merge with Hob. Then she escapes from a hospital by blowing it up. This is supposed to be the good guy, folks.
I don't know about you, but I'm disappointed that the story wasn't about this.
The current arc in Dresden Codak. Supposedly this is in continuity with Hob, but it's implied that Kim's memories are tainted since nobody believes half the things she says about what happened prior in the comic. Oddly enough everyone seems to know she's Kusanagi's daughter (yep, her dad's name is a lazy Ghost in the Shell reference) even though they clearly mention she severed all ties with him.
Anyway, we find out that Kim's estranged father was a genius who built the city of Nephilopolis, and she moves there for poorly explained reasons despite hating her father and showing no interest in his legacy. She discovers that its filled with a horrendously backwards bureaucracy that makes a mockery of science and her father's work. Even her friend Vonnie is obsessed with bafflingly nonsensical protocol (if you're wondering what happened to the Tokamak twins, Diaz was too lazy to write them out properly. Also, the original tumblr post explaining that was deleted). Also, cyborgs or "mezzodes" are second-class citizens (Most of the cyborgs in this city aren't cool like Kim, though. Many of them just have cameras for heads). Kim stumbles upon a conspiracy where her dad discovered the "Dark Scientific Method" and this evil council of shadowy figures wants to stop her because they hate the scientific method. No, really. Also there's something about Giants and Death or some shit.
That's about as far as the plot has gone, as over the years the update schedule for Dresden Codak has slowed to a crawl. You're lucky if there's an update more than once every few months. Speaking of, why is the update schedule so slow? Diaz hasn't given an adequate answer other than "only true fans are patient", but I suspect it's a mixture of laziness, procrastination, and an excessive and unnecessary attention to detail. His Patreon recently met his $4500 goal to make comics biweekly, but it looks like he couldn't even do that.
The art is technically competent. However, the artistic elements (before Dark Science) don't work with drama, and were clearly intended for use in a humorous piece. The bright colors and childish cartooniness doesn't exactly gel well with discussions on empiricism vs rationalism or what it means to be human. In spite of the fact that Diaz uses his drawing talents to (at this point) draw his lead character Kimiko in various states of dress (and undress), his art doesn't make you want to claw your eyes out. At least, excepting the times he includes too many words in too many panels, or (as already mentioned) he takes precious time and space to include Kimiko's naked ass as she hurdles through space, dead, or sometimes alive, apparently depending upon his mood. Here's a compilation of how many blatant cheesecake shots Diaz has jammed into the comic: One for Hob, and one for Dark Science.
Ah, yes, and then there's panel orientation. Too much of it is overwrought. It is often difficult to discern which panel should be read first, which doesn't help make the convoluted plot and nonsensical writing any easier to understand. For reference, here's a side-by-side comparison of another comic using an unconventional panel layout, Gunnerkrigg Court. In both images, the line you're supposed to follow between panels and speech bubbles is in red.
Technical problems aside, while the overall aesthetics of the artwork is fine, some of the design choices can be, frankly, odd. For example, more than one person has pointed out how Kim and her father look strangely simian-like.
Aside from these points, the art is not the major failure of this strip.
The writing is this strip's major failure. The characters lack substance and serve only as vehicles to further Diaz's transhumanist wankings. Now, when I called this comic "xkcd for philosophy majors", I may have done a disservice to xkcd in that comparison. Like it or hate it, at least it doesn't aggressively try to force its worldview on you. Diaz is akin to Woody Allen; good as a comedian, an absolute failure as a serious artist. At least Woody Allen realized his mistakes.
It is dangerous for a pretentious, shallow writer to switch from comedy to drama. One of the advantages to comedy is the writer can take refuge behind the blanket excuse, "It's comedy. You shouldn't be taking it that seriously". The parts where they were ramming their ideas down your throat that weren't erroneous or stupid: those were the "smart" bits. All of the problems you found with their message: those were the joke parts. In drama there is no such defense. When you wax philosophical and fail you look like an idiot. If you trip over your own message quickly enough you look like an idiot with ADHD.
Of course, even in the pre-Hob days, there were warning signs of things to come. Refer to the Philosophy D&D strip; this is supposed to be a comedy strip, but the humor hinges on obscure philosophy terminology that the average person would not be familiar with. And if you did know some of this material, that would only confuse you further. Dmitri is playing a character based on Spinoza, but then he turns evil by becoming a Christian Apologetic. The real-life Spinoza was religious, yes, but he was a pantheist and an avid supporter of the separation of church in state. So why did Diaz demonize him? Because he was a critic of Descartes. Noted scientist and mathematician Pascal gets the same treatment for the same reasons. In the same strip we also see Luddism conflated with Eurocentrism, and an Eastern religious philosopher is shown in a more favorable light for no adequately explained reason. Diaz was basically a proto-SJW. Also, if this is his idea of a game, he must be real fun at parties (And if you're wondering, yes, he did pitch this as a real idea. He also admits he's never played D&D either).
This joke has already been done before, and done better: the Monty Python Philosophy Football sketch. It succeeds where Dresden Codak fails; you don't need to know the specific philosophies at play, and it's not supporting or criticizing any particular philosophy. It just takes a silly idea and makes the most of it.
The rest of the comic has similar flaws; poorly thought out, and oftentimes self-contradictory. Some of Diaz's ideas are so baffling that I have a hard time telling the serious from the deliberately ridiculous apart. Seriously, a "reverse telecope" sounds like something Jaden Smith would come up with. Diaz never goes into depth about who these characters are or why they do what they do. We do get a token mention of why Kim is so obsessed with transhumanism; because her mother died, and she wants to eliminate death. Fair enough, I know real life transhumanists with similar motivations. But she has no empathy for humanity, especially people who aren't like her (like the filthy plebs who dare to like sportsball!) Kim even later says "Death comes to all". Nice character consistency there. She's also a massive Mary Sue, as not only does she know exactly what's going on with the time travelers without being told, but she turns into a world-saving demigod twice. There's also no real consistency or satisfactory explanation for the audience; did the singularity already happen? Is that why there's now cyborgs everywhere? But then why is this stuff about Dark Science and the Nephilim getting thrown in? Diaz doesn't seem to be interested in keeping readers in the loop. There's mystery, and then there's just plain obtuseness.
If there was one word I would use to describe Aaron Diaz, it would be "Insufferable". I try to avoid making harsh judgement of people, but after looking this guy up, I have a hard time thinking of anything else. If you were to base your opinion of him on his brief about page, which includes precious little information about himself except that he was apparently "born from the remnants of a supernova", you would just assume he's had just a little too much mocha frappuccino. But if you read his twitter at length (seriously, the guy spends more time on twitter than writing his own damn comic), you'd see how much of a grating asshole he really is.
I'll try not to focus too much on his twitter, because there's a lot of shit there, but I'll give a brief overview; Aaron Diaz is a preening narcissist who has little patience for anyone who doesn't think like him or uncritically supports his work. And anyone who doesn't think transhumanism is the best thing ever is a bunch of neanderthals and need to shut up. Like his own comic, he's quite hypocritical. He also tries to be an authority on feminism, despite failing to even do basic research. He even has the gall to attack other cheesecake artists for "Male Gaze" when he puts his own waifu in far more revealing situations, frequently for no good in-story reasons.
I'll point out three incidents in particular; the first is where Diaz gets worked up over a "scathing" review. No, it wasn't ours, I checked. He mentions things that were never in the original review. It turns out that he got mad at a relatively positive review at The Webcomic Overlook because it dared to suggest he got inspiration from Bioshock. Not only does he lie about which review it is, he attacks someone on twitter for asking where the review was so that he could read it himself.
The second incident involves Aaron's reboot of Zelda inspired by Anita Sarkeesian of all people. I'm not even going to open that can of worms in this review. Instead I mention it because of Diaz's funny attitudes about canon. This would later come back to haunt him when Nintendo introduced Linkle, and he'd passive-aggressively claim that Nintendo stole his idea, then deny it when challenged. His gender-inverted version also seems to be under the impression that the original Zelda was some airheaded bimbo rather than a proactive ruler who represented a genuine political threat to Ganondorf. Either that or he really just hates Link, who's deliberately a silent blank-slate protagonist. Either way, Diaz doesn't know how writing works.
The third incident is where another webcomic artist, Mary Cagle, made a parody comic (NSFW) mocking his feminist attitudes while simultaneously making blatant cheesecake (NSFW). However, the original comic never calls him out by name, nor do the male and female characters bear any strong resemblance to Diaz or Kim respectively, so one could easily say that it's not about him specifically. That didn't stop Diaz from calling her a "passive-aggressive shit". In the following shitstorm, he proceeded to delete everything, only to return and pretend nothing happened. (On a sidenote, Diaz may have retroactively edited his art in a very subtle way as a direct result of this incident: Here's Dark Science #18 roughly around the time of the incident - look at the final panel. And here is the current version. One can argue that the main reason for the change was that making the dark counsel more shadowy is fitting, but considering one of the characters in question is wearing a literal handbra, and was included among the images in the callout post, I believe he may have had other reasons for the change. I think we'll find out for certain when the character appears again.)
Just one more for good measure; remember how I said Diaz was barely meeting his new biweekly update goal? Check this out; he's threatening to cancel the comic because he got one email saying they didn't like how the art isn't as good with the new faster pace (I personally can't see a difference). Either he's trying to weasel his way out of the new schedule, or Aaron needs to get therapy.
Basically, Diaz fails as much as his main character at being a likable human being. You can make a good case that because Diaz is such a shallow human being, it's no wonder why Kim is such a pretentious, misanthropic asshole.
I will give him one thing, though. While other shitty webcomic artists like Jeph Jacques, Kate Leth and Thunt, people who only make comics as a money making scheme like Matthew Inman, internet powerhouses like Gabe and Tyco and even good webcomic artists like the aforementioned Tom Siddell have all pathetically backed down from slapfights with the self-important SJW mobs on twitter (are all webcomic artists such spineless children they can't handle being called names online without contemplating suicide?), I remember one instance where some chick got on his ass on twitter about how everything he says is wrong because he's (arguably) a man, and he told her to fuck off. So, despite being an SJW now, he's still too much of a self-important prick to follow their core beliefs if it means tolerating criticism from anybody. It's not much, but at least that time he was being a hypocrite for the right reasons. Sorry, but I'm going to have to disagree with you on that one. Diaz's MO on twitter is that he'll claim that men and only men ever find problems with him or his comic. And whenever a woman pops up to give him a righteous beatdown, instead of arguing them, he quietly blocks them and pretends it never happened. The incident with Cagle above is a good example of that in action.
This strip was better when it was a lighthearted humor comic. The new plot is boring. The writing doesn't work with the art. The character-driven story hinges on an unlikable, unrealistic, genocidal, OC waifu whom the artist cares more about drawing naked than developing adequately. Basically, Diaz can't write his transhumanist storyline to save his life. He needs to either go back to a simple humor setup, or hire a good writer to pen his fantasies. Maybe if the writing didn't suck at working with the subject material so badly, it could even work in its current form.
- John Solomon's first review of Dresden Codak
- John Solomon's second review
- Another review of it.
- And another review
- The review that pissed off Aaron Diaz
- Aaron's Twitter
- Aaron's Tumblr
- Aaron's Patreon.
- Diaz claims he was approached by Hollywood to do a Dresden Codak movie, but I don't know how much of that is true.
- A formal article on why the Singularity is dumb
- A silly webcomic on why the Singularity is dumb
- Another parody of Aaron Diaz and Kim Ross